CONYERS - Since 1978, Rockdale Cares has marshaled its resources and expended its energy to ensure that the community's mentally challenged residents aren't forgotten, and that those same residents get every opportunity to realize "the highest possible quality of life."
And for 28 years, the local nonprofit has hosted an annual event - for years it was known as the Harvest Ball - to raise funds for and awareness of the organization, which offers an array of services, including employment training and social opportunities, from its headquarters on Parker Road.
"We try to change the theme every year," said Rockdale Cares executive director Barbara Kilpatrick of this year's fundraising event, to be held Aug. 8 at the People Center at Acuity Brands Lighting on Lithonia Way. "One year we had a luau, which was fun to see a lot of local businessmen in grass skirts. Another time it was a '50s theme, and we did 'Christmas in July' and we once had a dinner with celebrity servers."
This year's motif isn't necessarily new, but it's something Rockdale Cares hasn't tried yet, Kilpatrick said.
"We're going with a country and western theme," she said. "This is a first for us, but we think it's going to be a lot of fun. We'll have a square-dance group and a DJ."
In recent years, Rockdale Cares' annual event has attracted between 190 and 220 patrons and a number of valuable sponsors. Kilpatrick, who said the organization hopes to raise in the neighborhood of $20,000, said reservations have been coming in slow so far, but she's encouraged that this year's gala will be as productive as previous parties.
"Besides the entertainment, we'll be offering a continuous PowerPoint presentation of Rockdale Cares events, and the buffet dinner will include pulled pork, chicken and peach cobbler for desert, with beer and wine available. We've also got a lot of nice gifts to put into a silent auction, but we could always use more."
Funding for an agency like Rockdale Cares is always critical, but finding more money has become a priority since the opening last October of the Haven House Respite Home. Kilpatrick said some of the revenue realized at the annual party will be put toward staffing Haven House.
"We're trying to raise money for the respite house," she said. "As it stands now, we don't have the funds to operate Haven House 24/7; we can operate on the weekends only and we're full up with a waiting list. We were able to receive an anonymous donation to be open 24/7 in June and July, and we'd love to be able to do it all the time."
Located in the Lighthouse Village on Sigman Road, Haven House Respite Home allows families and caregivers occasional breaks from the requirements of seeing to a Rockdale Cares client. The five-bedroom house (on land donated by Smyrna Presbyterian Church) is the first facility of its kind in East Metro.
"So many families need a break," said Kilpatrick, who began volunteering for Rockdale Cares in 1980, joined the board of directors and then was named executive director six years ago. "Haven House gives them a chance to have their family members looked after. The house has been well-used for the last two months."
Tickets for Rockdale Cares' annual event are $40 and sponsorship arrangements are available. For more information, call 770-922-7272 or visit www.rockdalecares.org.